Whaling today – The 67th International Whaling Commission Meeting 2018

During the meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in September 2018 in Florianópolis, Brazil, aboriginal whalers experienced a relieving decision by the Commission: they were granted a new quota, which is now valid for 7 years, and which will be transferred automatically unless agreed otherwise.

But the decision did not come lightly. After all, the IWC saw once again heated debates on whaling since some states, first and foremost Japan, pressed for a resumption of commercial whaling, which has been put under a ‘moratorium’ in 1982. Concerning the quota for aboriginal subsistence whaling (ASW) it was particularly Latin American states which opposed the automatic transfer of this quota since they feared that this might point towards a gradual shift towards a resumption of commercial whaling.

Relieved Alaskan and Chukotkan Aboriginal Whalers in front of the voting result
 © Nikolas Sellheim 2018

Heated, emotional debates & Japan’s frustration

Even though the quota for ASW was finally granted, it was particularly Japan and Brazil that clashed. On the one hand, Japan aimed for a lifting of a moratorium in order to obtain a small quota for its coastal communities. On the other, Brazil’s proposal saw the IWC move even more towards conservation, shattering any hope for countries that would like to see the principle of ‘sustainable use’ implemented in the IWC.

Since whaling is such an emotional issue, the debates surrounding both proposals were extremely heated and resulted in accusations of dishonesty and deception from both sides. In the end, Brazil’s proposal was accepted whereas Japan’s was defeated. Most notably, representatives from both the Foreign Ministry and the Fisheries Agency of Japan gave statements on this topic, both equally expressing their frustration about the result. This frustration ultimately resulted in the withdrawal of Japan from the IWC, which was announced on 26 December 2018. Particularly the Foreign Ministry being so vocal about this issue was surprising since whaling had not been too prominently on its agenda.

How did we get to this point? In one of the the next posts I will briefly explore different ways of interpreting a treaty. After that I will explore how this translates into different approaches to whaling.

For a more detailed account of the IWC meeting, please consult my article “Quotas, Cultures, and Tensions. Recent Schedule Amendments for Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling” in Current Developments in Arctic Law, Vol. 6, available here.

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